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Wed, 07.11.1877

McCants Stewart, Lawyer born

McCants Stewart

McCants Stewart was born on this date in 1877. He was a Black lawyer.

He was born in Brooklyn, NY, the son of T. McCants (a respected nomadic Black southern leader) and Lottie P. (Harris) Stewart.  Young Stewart received his early education in the public schools of Brooklyn, and Claflin University, SC. After many run-ins with then-school president Booker T. Washington, he graduated from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1896. That same year, he entered the University of New York, taking special work.  In addition, in 1896, he attended the University of New York Law School.

He began working in his father’s law practice only to find that the senior McCants' methods were as strict as those of Booker T. Washington’s. Tired of these confining arrangements, he left New York to enroll in the University of Minnesota Law School. He never revealed his reasons for choosing a northern school or a state with a small Black population.  Yet, maturity and a sense of purpose characterized his brief period in Minneapolis.  He was a model graduate student in Minnesota, excelling academically and writing for the school paper. He was an active member of the Kent Literary Society.  Stewart graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1899, receiving his master’s degree. He was the first Black at the University of Minnesota to achieve that distinction and was admitted to the bar in St. Paul soon after.

When Stewart arrived, the Twin Cities possessed a small Black professional and leadership community. Though he was registered to and expressed interest in opening practice, he never succeeded in challenging the established Black professional class.  Stewart migrated to the Dakotas, where he entered the dairy business and prepared to practice law.  This move did little to advance his legal career, and he arrived in Portland, OR, in 1902.  He was admitted to the bar of Oregon in 1903, becoming that state's first Black lawyer.  Stewart started an active practice of his profession in Portland that same year. Stewart married Mary D. Weir of Minneapolis on August 22, 1905.

The highlight of his rather uneventful career was a civil rights case, Taylor v. Cohn, which he argued successfully in 1906.  He was a Republican, but his political connections did little for his aspirations besides allowing his appointment to a notary public. In 1914 he ran for a public defender and lost. Stewart had a freak accident while running to board a streetcar, which required his leg to be amputated. Shortly after, his vision gave him trouble, and his practice declined.  In 1917, he and his family moved to San Francisco only to find Black life and times equally hard.

He and another attorney Oscar Hudson began a law practice, yet times were difficult, and Stewart never saw the positive aspects of his future. Despite his partner's assurances, Stewart’s patience had waned by 1919.  In a fit of resignation and total despair, at 42, McCants Stewart committed suicide on April 14, 1919, leaving behind his family and several debts.

To Become a Lawyer


Oregon History

Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906

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